Christian Living

Helpful articles to encourage followers of Jesus.

Overcoming Doubt By Trusting God’s Character

Fear can cripple us from obeying God. We will come up with all kind of excuses, like Gideon. Judges 6 introduces Gideon as a fearful man. We are introduced to Gideon in verse 11. He is threshing wheat in a winepress. Now, what is wrong with that—threshing wheat in a winepress? It is unusual, but it is also clear from verse 11 that he is hiding from the Midianites. He can’t be out in the open with this or they’ll take it.

What Gideon didn’t realize is that God has chosen him to be the next Judge, the one who would rescue Israel from this oppression from the Midianites.

The Angel of the Lord visited him and said “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor” (v.12). Two parts- first, a reference to the Lord, and second, a reference to Gideon.

Gideon takes issue with the first reference—God? where is God?

There’s something really interesting about Gideon by the way— if he’s no older than 40-50 years old at this time (maybe the average lifespan of a man at that time), then he was born into a time of peace in Israel. Prior to being put into Midianite oppression, Israel experienced 40 years of peace.

All he knew was peace. These last 7 years were something so foreign to him.

So, he was doubting the character of God, and it didn’t take long for him to get to that point. He might have lived for 40 years hearing the good accounts of God to Israel, and then in 7 short years, his view of God changed.

Circumstances can quickly change your worldview if you’re not careful to keep a proper focus.  

Gideon also took issue with the second part of what the angel of the Lord told him—that he was a mighty man of valor. He explained how he was the youngest person in his family, which was the weakest family in their tribe.

God doesn’t say, ‘Oh no, you’re not that weak’; he doesn’t correct him. It’s true: Gideon really must have been weak! But God told him what would forever change his life and lift him out of his crippling doubt and fear: “I will be with you” (v.16).

Eventually, Gideon built an altar to the Lord and called it “The Lord is Peace” (v.24). He stopped thinking about himself–his limitations and his lack of understanding–and found peace by remembering God’s character.

Think about the name of this altar. The Lord is Peace. The name addressed every doubt that Gideon had. He remembered who God is. The fears, hiding, doubting—all of that is met in the God of Peace.

Is fear crippling you from obeying God? Don’t make excuses from your personal limitations, but trust in the character of God to complete what He started in you (Phil. 1:6).

Circumstances Blind Us to God’s Faithfulness

You’ve probably heard the account of Jesus feeding of the 5,000–all these people getting hungry, no food, doubting disciples, and Jesus miraculously multiplying the five loaves and two fish to not just feed everyone but have much left over as well (Matthew 14:13-21).

Notice that the phrase “desolate place” occurs twice (verses 13 & 15) in this passage. That’s part of the setting. A desolate place and hungry people.

Now fast forward to Matthew 15:32-39 where the feeding of the 4,000 is recorded. This situation is similar but different from the feeding of the 5,000 (Jesus acknowledges both in Matthew 16:9-10). The similarity is that people are gathered to hear Jesus teach and they are hungry (16:32). Jesus told his disciples that he had compassion for those hungry people and desired to feed them.

But look at what the disciples ask Jesus right after he says that:  “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?”

Wait-WHAT??!!! Did they already forget what happened possibly within just a week prior?

  • The desolate place.
  • Enough food.
  • So great a crowd.

ALL of that was true for the feeding of the 5,000. Two desolate places. Enough? There was more than enough–12 leftover baskets in fact (14:20). So great a crowd? They just saw a great crowd miraculously fed.

Somehow, all of a sudden, the circumstances blinded the disciples from God’s faithfulness and the power of Christ.   

Does this happen in your life? You have seen God provide and have seen his grace over and over. But for some reason, when that difficult situation confronts you, you somehow go blind to His faithfulness.

Find great comfort in 2 Timothy 2:13: “if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”  The context of that passage contrasts denying Christ with being faithless. The ESV Study Bible footnote says that being faithless is a temporary lapse in trusting Christ, for which there is still hope because Christ is faithful to pardon, restore, and keep those who are truly his.

Even when we find ourselves like the disciples having a temporary lapse in trusting Christ, there is still grace and forgiveness. Right after the disciples ask Jesus how they could feed so many people, Jesus doesn’t just slap them across the face and say don’t you remember last week??!!

No, our gracious Savior lovingly said, “How many loaves do you have?” Grace on display! The Lord could look into your circumstances and calmly ask you to tell him all about it, then trust Him, and rely on His grace for every situation.   

How To Listen to Boring Preaching

Ever listen to a boring sermon? As I preacher, I can honestly say that some sermons are more effective than others due to the preacher’s preparation and delivery. But the effectiveness of a sermon could also rest on the listener’s preparation and reception.

Preaching should explain and apply Scripture. It is a laborious work to preach; and it is a laborious work to listen and interact with a sermon. You might find Daryl Crouch’s article helpful on the listener’s preparation side, and I want to address the reception side by sharing a practical method of interacting with a sermon to allow it to be most effective in conforming you to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

I first read about the DOOR method from Adam Feldman in his book Journaling: Catalyzing Spiritual Growth Through Reflection (chapter 6). I want to share that outline, adding a few comments to each part.

When listening to a sermon, take notes! Here’s an outline you could use:

D- Details

Adam says to write down the important details about the sermon preached, like the date, preacher’s name, sermon title, and Scripture reference(s). When I was preparing to officiate a funeral, I looked through the Bible of the godly woman we would remember. I was struck by how she wrote these details in the margins of her Bible. She has my name and “1st sermon at Central” by the passage I first preached there. The memories were remarkable!

I would also add that if you are listening to a sermon and these details are not easily found, especially the Scripture reference, you might want to consider if you are actually listening to preaching. Also, being able to look quickly to compare your notes when you’ve heard sermons from the same passage could be very helpful to remind you of the applications you made during those different seasons of life.

O- Outline

Adam recognizes that you must discipline yourself to listen for the “flow” of a sermon. Some preachers readily and easily give an outline, whether in print or verbally. I think this part of your sermon notes could help you become less distracted. You have to be intently listening in order to complete this section of notes. Listening for the outline/flow of a sermon will keep you from cherry-picking tweetable quotes without understanding the context in which they were given.

O- Observation

Adam points out that you should be observing three persons: yourself (What is going on inside of you as you listen? Are you open to receiving this message?), the preacher (what is he most passionate about in the sermon?), and the Holy Spirit (What is He saying to you?).

I like this reflective model of listening. It takes the main points you might list in the “outline” section of your notes a little further, setting you up for recognizing how you should be transformed by that Scripture. While Adam is right in focusing on your reactions to the message, I would say that you must be careful not to let your feelings during the sermon blind to the meaning of the biblical text.

For example, I know people who were upset after a sermon I preached it touched on a particular sin they were involved in. If they were note-taking during that sermon, they might have noted how they felt. Ultimately, they stopped coming to our worship services because they allowed their emotions to supercede Scripture. Always conform your feelings to the truth of Scripture, not the other way around.

R- Respond

Consider asking, “How will I apply the Word preached today in the coming days?” I like this final point because it does not allow you to leave a sermon as an academic or philosophic pursuit. The Bible is to be learned and lived!

Two common mistakes in responding is 1) being too general or 2) putting too much. If you are too general, you won’t actually do anything. Saying, “Speak encouraging words to my neighbor when I see him outside” is better than “love others more.”  If you write five specific responses, you risk being overwhelmed and potentially inactive.

Try the DOOR method this Sunday. What other ways do you interact with a sermon?

Be Thankful for the Deborahs In Your Life

My mom’s name is Deborah, and I’m thankful for her. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

I am referring to the relationship between Deborah and Barak in the book of Judges (chapters 4 and 5). Deborah was a prophetess, meaning she spoke God’s word to His people.  She was a wise woman, settling disputes under a palm tree. Barak was a military leader who faced the ruthless and technologically-superior Canaanites in order to deliver the Israelites from their oppression. This victory was an act of God’s grace for His people (Israel), and Deborah and Barak were major players.

In Judges 4:6-7, Deborah summoned Barak and said, “Hasn’t the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded you: ‘Go, deploy the troops on Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the Naphtalites and Zebulunites? Then I will lure Sisera commander of Jabin’s army, his chariots, and his infantry at the Wadi Kishon to fight against you, and I will hand him over to you.’”

When I was reading that recently, I noticed something–God had already told Barak what he was to do and had already promised victory. Deborah was admonishing Barak to be faithful to what God had already said.

My point:  be thankful for the “Deborahs” in your life who admonish you to be obedient to Scripture.

God has spoken and we have that record in the 66 books the Bible. It can be painful to hear someone say, “Didn’t God say…,” pointing out sin in our lives, but we need to be humble as we’re admonished toward obedience to God’s Word.

Be thankful for the Deborahs in your life.

Remember and Repent

David messed up pretty badly when he slept with Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba) and then tried to cover it up. When that didn’t work, he had Uriah killed and then took Bathsheba as his wife (2 Samuel 11). It’s easy to wonder how a King of God’s people could get into such a situation, and it would be easy to think that he could never be restored to the Lord after that.

But God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love (Ps. 103:8). He forgave David when David confessed his sin, repented, and asked for forgiveness. David suffered under the weight of unconfessed sin, however, and he wonderfully recorded the internal struggle at the beginning of Psalm 32, even remarking on how it impacted him physically.

Psalm 51 is David’s penitent prayer after he finally acknowledged his sin (read how a prophet helped him realize his sinful ways in 2 Samuel 11 and 12). It is the source of at least one great song and is a go-to passage on sin and repentance.

In verses 7-12, David expresses his desire for forgiveness and what would come with it. He desired joy, gladness, rejoicing, purity, a clean heart, and a right spirit. Then at the beginning of verse 12 he says Restore to me the joy of your salvation…

David was following a pattern that Jesus later gave in the book of Revelation. Jesus told the church in Ephesus:  “Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. . .” (Revelation 2:5, CSB)  The two verbs there (remember and repent) show us how the joy of our salvation can be restored after we sin.

David remembered the joy of his salvation.

Maybe he was recounting all the blessings of the Lord and the incredible work of God in his life. He could think back to times of joy that came when he was abiding in the Lord and saw the blessings of obedience. He wanted that again. Sin stole his joy.

David repented of his sin.

He confessed his sin, realizing that he had sinned against God. He knew that if he could be forgiven of sin and purified in his heart, then he could have that joy that was stolen. The chasm that sin created between God and him (Isaiah 59:2) could be removed and he could live in the power of the Lord with joy. This power and joy is why repentance is still a necessary part of a Christian’s life.

Sometimes remembering how far we have fallen helps us come to the humble place of repentance. Recounting your testimony of how you came to the Lord and received new life reminds you of perfect fellowship with the Lord. We can remember where we once were with the Lord, and then remember that He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love.

Remember, repent, and find joy restored.

You Might Be A Legalist If… (Part 4)

Note: This post is part of a series.

You might be a legalist if you appear righteous but are spiritually decaying inside.

Our sinful flesh is selfish. We love to be seen. Commended. Rewarded. Praised.

Matthew 6 records Jesus calling out three specific examples of this sinful attitude:

  • “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1, ESV)  
  • “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:5, ESV)  
  • “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:16, ESV)  

We need to beware of spiritual practices that are motivated by the praise of man because it reveals our misunderstanding of the personal relationship we can have with Jesus Christ. His glory should motivate us!

Perhaps Jesus’ harshest words were toward the Pharisees. Matthew 23:25–28 is a striking condemnation for appearing righteous while internally being guilty of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Are you like a whitewashed tomb, outwardly beautiful but internally filled with dead peoples’ bones?

Today, this is called formalism. Formalism is “undue insistence on the outward observances of religion or the prescriptions of a moral code, with a corresponding neglect of the inner spirit or significance which the ‘forms’ were designed to safeguard.”¹

Many people are guilty of just going through the formality of believing in Jesus Christ. We want to look like we’re doing the right things, so we pray, sing, tithe, open our Bible in church and display one on the coffee table at home, walk down the aisle… but our soul is filthy and decaying because our motivation is not pure and our actions are not genuine toward God.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10, ESV)  

 

1 F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 627.

You Might Be A Legalist If… (Part 3)

Note: This post is part of a series.

 

You might be a legalist if you don’t practice what you preach.  

If you demand others to be righteous but then don’t follow your own words, you’re acting like the Pharisees. And Jesus had some pretty harsh words for them.

Look at Jesus’s words in Matthew 23:2-4:

2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

Within Judaism, the Scribes were experts on the Torah because they interpreted it. The Pharisees were experts in the theological matters that the Torah brought about. They had authority (Moses’ seat), so people were to respect them and observe what they interpreted properly, although they weren’t to mirror their works. They would maybe say the right things, but they wouldn’t do it themselves.

A similar situation is mentioned in Acts 15 during the Jerusalem Council. Peter condemned some there who were trying to put unnecessary demands on Gentile converts.

Today there could be:

  • legalistic preachers, who preach one thing to their people and then neglect their very words;
  • legalistic parents, who demand their children to act in biblical ways and then don’t act that way themselves.  

We can so easily be legalistic simply by not practicing what we preach. We might know what’s right and how to proclaim what’s right, but we don’t always live as if it actually is right.

I believe the answer to this problem is that we need a softened heart that realizes the power of the grace of Jesus Christ. As Peter said, “. . .we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:11, ESV).

You Might Be A Legalist If… (Part 2)

You might be a legalist if you add your rules above God’s as absolute authority.

Note: This post is part of a series.

Some must feel that God’s words are not clearly sufficient or explained well enough because they feel the need to “define them more clearly.” Doing this is dangerous, however, because it puts one in danger of adding to God’s words (Rev. 22:18-19).

 

We see it in John 7:21-23. Jesus referred to healing people on the Sabbath, of which he is condemned by the Pharisees. The gospels contain six records of Jesus healing on the sabbath, all which were contested by the Jewish leaders. Even though the leaders were upset with Jesus’ actions, everything he did on the Sabbath was only unlawful according to the Mishnah, not the actual Law of God. The Mishnah was a “series of interpretations of the meaning of the law” that were eventually compiled around AD 200.1  It existed in Jesus’ time and basically defined God’s Law more clearly.

 

It’s ironic really. Sinful people are judging a sinless God by their finite definition of God’s perfect law.

 

It is easy to put your rules or interpretations of God’s Law above what He actually said.

  • Denominations might do this by creating policies and rules that further define the Scriptures;
  • Churches might create bylaws that go beyond the intended meaning of Scripture;
  • People might trust the words of a Christian author more than the words of God;

 

An easy way to test your heart for legalism is to beware of this attitude: If it’s right for me, it must be right for you. You can fill in the blank with examples. Those examples might be accompanied by good intentions, but enforcing them is putting man’s word above God’s Word.

 

We must study Scripture faithfully and be brave enough to live by what we learn.

 

1Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale Reference Library (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 903.

 

You Might Be A Legalist If… (Part 1)

The Zondervan dictionary of Bible themes defines legalism as “the belief that salvation demands or depends upon total obedience to the letter of the law. Examples of legalism include an excessive concern for minute details of the will coupled with a neglect of its fundamental concerns, and a preoccupation with human legal traditions.

 

The danger of this sinful attitude: one who is committed to it could spend an eternity in hell and can be responsible for sending others there too.  We see this in Matthew 23:13 & 15:  ““But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.”   “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”

 

Legalism is more worried about rules than the heart.

You might be a legalist if you condemn someone’s sin while ignoring and denying your own.

 

In John 7:19, Jesus asked the Jewish people why they were seeking to kill him. They thought Jesus was guilty enough of something that he should be put to death, but there was no justification since he was sinless.  

 

So they were condemning a sinless man to death at the same time they were guilty of not keeping the law of Moses.

 

They ignored their own sin while falsely condemning Jesus. While we know that Jesus did not sin, his purity here is actually irrelevant to the Jewish peoples’ argument because they should have looked at themselves first before accusing him.

 

Not only did they ignore their sin but they also denied it. In verse 20, they blast, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?”  They wouldn’t even admit their own guilt of wanting to kill him! But Jesus, in his infinite knowledge as God, knew their hearts, their intentions, and their guilt.

 

It is so easy to do the exact same thing – quickly condemn other people for their sin, while ignoring and denying our own. This is legalism– holding other people up to the laws of God while somehow exempting yourself from them.

You Can Still Confidently Sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

If Jesus already came and we know that God is with us right now through the Holy Spirit, then how can we still sing this song with any meaning?

O Come, O Come Emmanuel–this prayer should change your perspective during the Christmas season. It represents Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping.

The mood at the time of the birth of Christ

We know this song was written long after the birth of Christ, but let’s apply the lyrics to that time to see why we can understand the mood.

What we call the “Intertestamental Period,” between Malachi and Matthew was roughly 400 years. There is no record of God speaking during that time. Much was changing in the political landscape and impacting the Israelites. The first divine revelation since the intertestamental period came through an angel, Gabriel, who told Zechariah, a priest, that he would have a son. Zechariah’s son, John (the Baptist), was the forerunner to the Messiah who would come.

Imagine being in that time period: Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping. Four hundred years without hearing from God. Changes in government. Different rulers, some of whom leave you alone and others who don’t. You’d be longing for the Messiah.

Now we are back to the same question:  how can we still sing this song?  Let me argue that:

We should still have the same mood.

Romans 8:22-25 is a great passage to show us that we should still be longing, aching, yearning, and hoping, even though the Messiah has come and He has accomplished the work of redemption that has secured our salvation for all eternity.

22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

God cursed the ground as a result of sin entering the world (Gen 3:17-18). All creation has been groaning in pains of childbirth, waiting for the joy that would come.

We can understand the pains of childbirth. It hurts, but a woman perseveres because a great joy is coming. In the same way, the whole creation is subjected to pains like childbirth. The verse before tells us the great joy coming for the physical creation: v.21– it is set free from this bondage and decay it is subjected to.

23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,

One commentator describes the firstfruits of the Spirit as “Spirit as a foretaste of the future” (Conybeare & Howson, The Life & Epistle of St. Paul).

It is likely a reference to the Holy Spirit, who is a guarantee of our faith and that which is yet to come, like Paul mentions in 2 Cor. 5:5. We have the firstfruits of the Spirit—there is more to come.

[we] groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Here is the “now/not yet” of our salvation. Though we have Christ and our salvation is secure (NOW), inwardly we still groan for something more that is to come (NOT YET).

Do you realize that what you are experiencing right now as a believer in Christ is not all that you’ll ever experience with Him?  There is much more to come. You have the salvation of Christ and all its blessings right now in your life. But you still have the not yet waiting for you!

This verse says we eagerly await our adoption—this is interesting because just earlier in this chapter (14-17), Paul writes of our adoption as God’s children in the past tense.

You are adopted by God in the sense that you are saved and you are His child (NOW). But verse 23 refers to the full culmination of our adoption, which is the glorification of our bodies (NOT YET).

We groan inwardly as we live in the now because we know that right now is not the end.

24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Hope is a key theme in this passage, appearing 5 times just in verses 24-25.

We hope for what we do not see because we have not obtained that glorious inheritance yet. What we have right now is finished, fully sufficient. We were saved. It’s done.We are saved. And it changes your life right now, giving you purpose.

 

Now, when we sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” we are not just thinking about the birth of Jesus. We are thinking about His coming again, about the time we will experience His full glory, which we have not yet seen. Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping.

 

We are still in a sinful, fallen world and experiencing its effects.

Death takes away.

Disease leads to misery.

Calamity still strikes.

 

In Sutherland Springs, TX, they are Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping.

In Las Vegas, NV, they are Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping.

 

We are still waiting for “…the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7).

We are still waiting for final deliverance “from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

We are still waiting “for the hope of righteousness” (Galatians 5:5).

 

We are Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping.  So yes, we still sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel. God, be with us. Finally, eternally, in glory.

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